A Pennsylvania man has been charged with his wife’s murder 34 years after her body was found in a remote wooded area, closing a cold case for investigators who “never stop seeking justice for victims,” authorities said.
Carl Rodgers, 62, was arrested Monday and charged with homicide in the death of Debra Jane Rodgers, his 23-year-old wife who lived with Rodgers and their 5-year-old daughter in a trailer in Perry County. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the filing of murder charges Tuesday.
Debra Rodgers returned home from her job at Little Buffalo State Forest on April 22, 1983, the day of her disappearance. Carl Rodgers gave inconsistent statements to police. Initially, he claimed she was depressed about her occupation and was suicidal before admitting they had argued and he grabbed her by the arm, according to Shapiro.
Investigators discovered later that Debra Rodgers had recently applied for a new job with a pay increase at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board as an administrative aide.
The following day, Carl Rodgers contacted his wife’s family to tell them she was missing. Rodgers then took the woman’s relatives into the state forest to look for her, ultimately leading them to a remote area where they found her car, Shapiro said.
The search was called off later that evening without locating Debra Rodgers, but her husband insisted on returning her car to the family’s farm despite her relatives’ concerns that she would be stranded in the harsh elements without a vehicle, Shapiro said.
The search resumed on April 24, 1983, when Carl Rodgers suggested searching a ridgeline with Debra’s brother as other relatives searched the woods below, where Debra Rodgers’ body ultimately was found by her mother in the area where Carl Rodgers predicted, Shapiro said.
A knife and an engraved sheath bearing the name “Carl” was found near the scene and Debra Rodgers’ body was found several hundred years from her vehicle, with her shirt pulled halfway up, as if she was dragged to the location, Shapiro said.
A coroner’s report later determined that Debra Rodgers died from blunt force trauma to the head and torso, although both of her wrists were deeply slashed to make it appear as if she killed herself. Shapiro said a coroner found that several tendons in both wrists were cut and that it was extremely unlikely that the injuries were self-inflicted.
Shapiro said the case was then put before a grand jury after prosecutors met in 2016 for a review of cold-case homicides. The grand jury recommended a murder charge be filed against Carl Rodgers after reviewing all of the evidence, including witness testimony and statements from experts.
Rodgers, of Shermans Dale, was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police on Monday and remains held without bail, Shapiro said.
“This case shows the commitment we have, across law enforcement, to pursue unsolved murders regardless of how many years go by,” Shapiro said. “Just as families never stop praying for loved ones they’ve lost, we will never stop seeking justice for victims anywhere and at any time in our Commonwealth.”